14.0393 prosthetics and small changes

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: 10/21/00

  • Next message: by way of Willard McCarty: "14.0396 primitives, argumentation, markup and evidence"

                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 393.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
       [1]   From:    Jascha Kessler <jaschak@earthlink.net>              (71)
             Subject: Re: 14.0389 cognitive connections?
       [2]   From:    "Osher Doctorow" <osher@ix.netcom.com>              (46)
             Subject: Is the problem in complexity or in ourselves?
             Date: Sat, 21 Oct 2000 06:55:14 +0100
             From: Jascha Kessler <jaschak@earthlink.net>
             Subject: Re: 14.0389 cognitive connections?
    I think Randall meant to write "decry," and not "descry," for the latter
    means to "make out" or "discern," a meaning a bit off his context, if close
    to a pun.  I am not myself altogether happy with the "challenge/response"
    generalization, since it seems to me, or to anyone who has ever worked with
    his or her own infant from the hour of birth, rather obvious for animal
    behavior, stimulus and response today being a notion that might well fit
    into the probabilistics of evolution, starting at the gross molecular
    organization...as we know now from the rapid variations in even such a
    primitive or rudimentary life as that of the HIV virus.  On the level of
    ordinary human activity, I have favored the notion, and suggested it to
    students of literature, that the human animal is, philosophically speaking,
    born deficient...not only in the commonly understood sense of being born
    unable to fend for itself for years and years, unlike a foal that stands and
    walks in an hour or so, or a deer, since those creatures have to run to
    survive the waiting predators...but in the sense that it seems, perhaps
    before the first great achievement, fire-making, we need prosthetic devices.
    Perhaps beginning with a loin cloth...?  Did the buck naked Aborigines of
    Australia always live that way? or did they lose clothing after entering
    that continent?  Or the naked Tierra del Fuego folks?  In  short, the
    prosthesis, or devices we make and apply, beginning with fire and tools for
    hunting and slaughtering and digging grubs, have been with us, as
    technological objects of our making from the very first, it would seem.  A
    hurled  rock is one thing to catch a rabbit with; a slung rock is a most
    potent device.  But the sling itself is first made, from whatever.  Our very
    defective form of being has led us to where we are...and one need only
    imagine being dropped off naked in Tierra del Fuego to begin to understand
    our helplessness. I recall an adventure in the last decade when a man and
    woman were indeed deliberately left off in northern Australia, was it?  It
    made a fascinating book.  But they already had 1 million years of experience
    behind them, and knew what to try to make.  Etc.
       Jascha Kessler
       Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA
       Telephone: (310) 393-4648  (9:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. PST)
       Fax: (360) 838-8589/VoiceMail 24 hours (360) 838-8589
      > From: Humanist Discussion Group <willard@lists.village.virginia.edu> 
    (by way
      > of Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>)
      > Reply-To: willard@lists.village.virginia.edu
      > Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2000 09:16:16 +0100
      > To: Humanist Discussion Group <humanist@lists.Princeton.EDU>
      >  >
      > Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 389.
      > Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
      > <http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/>
      > <http://www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/>
      > Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2000 08:53:47 +0100
      > From: Randall Pierce <rpierce@jsucc.jsu.edu>
      > Subject: Jascha Kessler and Science Fiction
      > Mr. Kessler's observations about the rise of technology were very
      > interesting. This leads me to ask Mr. Kessler if the thinks the
      > challenge and response theory of "human progress" is the preeminent one
      > in human develpment. Although technology and economics play a very
      > important part in human development, I would not descry the place that
      > psychology, both "normal' and "abnormal" have had. I would think that
      > the role of hyper-text technology will make available so many "obscure"
      > works which have seldom seen the light of day. Some of these works have
      > not been made generally available due  to the outre nature of the
      > material, but because of the ability of modern information technology
      > to  make so much so generally available to great numbers of
      > researchers,  I wonder how many "cognitive connections" can be made by
      > synthesizing seemingly disparate bodies of information? Randall
             Date: Sat, 21 Oct 2000 06:55:36 +0100
             From: "Osher Doctorow" <osher@ix.netcom.com>
             Subject: Is the problem in complexity or in ourselves?
    I thank WM for his invaluable suggestions, although he is not responsible
    for any errors which I may make in the following.  Many people now believe
    that the universe is infinitely more complex than we thought a few years
    ago, and Godel's proofs in mathematical logic even indicated something amiss
    in mathematics as long ago as the 1930s.  Quantum entanglement, chaos, the
    bizarre human events in history in the last 100 years, lead many people to
    conclude that mathematics and physics and humanities have in common only
    their inability to really comprehend the deepest levels of reality or
    unreality.  Modernism, postmodernism, and even the Law of the Jungle seem to
    make a step by step analysis of everything implausible in its old sense -
    especially for the humanities, but analogously for the sciences.  We are
    warned against small simplifying steps because computer simulated life is so
    very complicated/complex.  Yet I beg to differ.  In recent weeks I have
    attacked problems more complicated than complexity in computers, and if I
    may defer references for those who want them, I have solved them mostly by
    changing tiny assumptions and tiny operations.  David Hilbert, the German
    mathematician, did something similar around the turn of the century (around
    1900) when he created a program for mathematics and physics for the whole
    century with his famous 23 unsolved problems.  Most of his program was
    successful in setting trends, but some of it failed because of Godel's
    proofs in mathematical logic that, roughly speaking, we can't prove
    everything in mathematics or even arithmetic.  As a probability theorist and
    mathematical logician, you might expect that I would defend Godel strongly
    and give up on Hilbert.  However, Hilbert and Godel were both creative
    geniuses who specialized in changing assumptions in small steps.  It is
    actually a very big step to change an assumption, unlike changing pages in a
    notebook.  Marx assumed that the working class would inevitably triumph,
    Adam Smith assumed that capital would inevitably triumph, Shakespeare
    assumed that the world was a stage, and Socrates assumed that everything
    could be dissected into its meanings/assumptions/foundations.  The Catholic
    Church assumes that the Pope is infallible, the Anglican Church assumes that
    the Pope is not infallible.  The word "not" has changed, a small change in
    one word from a proposition and sentence.  To me, complexity and chaos and
    quantum entanglement and human history and art and music and all the rest
    are windmills.  I think that I have a new insight into Cervantes' Don
    Quixote.  If you believe in step by step conquest of the worlds, then go out
    and conquer them one by one.  Let others theorize about the unconquerable
    and shake their heads in despair.  For you, all you can do is to go one step
    at a time into creative genius, changing a little axiom here, a little
    definition there, clarifying a meaning somewhere, clarifying a relationship
    somewhere, changing an operation or a connection or an inference or a way of
    perceiving or of recording.  Let others laugh, deride, and despair of your
    future, sailing rapidly ahead on their computerized or wooden ships.  If all
    you create is a book that is treasured through the ages, or a thought that
    is imprinted in all time, and a knowing smile that continues like the
    windmills, you have won, not lost.  Then you are the Man or the Woman from
    La Mancha.

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